Protection Crisis: COVID-19 More than Health Pandemic

“Protection crisis” was the catchphrase at the UN Security Council last Thursday. Find out what the issues were in the debate about pandemic security.

Things are starting to look up in my little corner of this pandemic pillaged planet. I went to the supermarket today, and the deli department had reopened.

It doesn’t take much to make my day lately. Restrictions here are gradually lifting, and the figures on confirmed new cases look promising overall.

I count myself lucky for that because it isn’t the case everywhere. COVID-19 cases in the US are at an all-time high, for example.

Not Only Health Concerns, We Also Face a Protection Crisis

Looking around the world, we can see conditions that are almost as serious. At this point, the issues aren’t only health concerns. We also face a protection crisis.

More than a billion kids are missing school. Forecasters predict that over 135 million people will be starving by year’s end. Attackers are targeting health care workers in various places around the globe.

Global peace and security were already brittle at the beginning of this year due to weak leadership from Washington. The lack of action on the pandemic issue has turned fragile stability into a powder keg.

Trust in Public Institutions Has Eroded

Understandably, trust in public institutions in the United States has eroded. That’s what happens when the public realizes that those in charge aren’t doing their job, or they’re not being upfront about how they’re doing it.

This lack of trust boils over into unrest. We’ve seen that in the US with ethnic tensions building, and protests and counter-protests erupting into violence.

Other, less influential countries also face a protection crisis.  In Darfur, authorities use the pandemic as an excuse to push back deadlines in the peace agreements reached in South Sudan.

Extremists Take Advantage of Lockdown Conditions

Violent extremists take advantage of the lockdown conditions, which they see as an opportunity. For example, the Economist reports that right-wing activity in the US is on the rise, including gun-toting protests.

American extremist groups also disrupt online meetings with tactics called “Zoom attacks.” Fanatics have called on their followers to infect Jewish people and police officers deliberately.

Radical groups have also organized crank calls to tie up New York City’s 311 services. Authorities intended the line to provide public information and coordinate the National Guard.

Activist Planned to Blow Up a Missouri Hospital

In at least one protection crisis case, police prevented a bomb plot by killing an alt-right activist in a shoot-out. He was planning to blow up a Missouri hospital.

Extremist groups are flourishing in the quarantine environment. These include the white supremacists and the Boogaloo Boys.

Boogaloo members were banned from Facebook this week. The US also has to deal with the accelerationists, who accelerate unrest by spreading false rumours and hate speech.

We see similar trends in other countries. In Somalia, experts warn that the radical al-Shabaab group may increase its attacks. As in America, they see an opportunity in the fact that authorities are concentrating on the pandemic.

Calls for Postponing this Year’s Elections

We’ve seen calls for postponing the November election in the US or denying voters the right to vote by mail. Similar electoral excuses are arising in the Central African Republic, and they’re almost as divisive as in the United States.

These are just a few examples of the international protection crisis that we see building in today’s global community. To address the leadership vacuum, Germany, who are taking their turn chairing the UN Security Council this month, convened a high-level debate on the issue.

Heiko Maas is the German foreign minister. He told the members, “The Council must finally embrace a broader understanding of peace and security.”

“Virus Can Be More Deadly than a Gun”

“Today, we know a virus can be more deadly than a gun,” he continued. “Closing our eyes to this reality means refusing to learn.” 

The Secretary-General also addressed the Security Council on the topic. Antonio Guterres warned that “The health pandemic has fast become a protection crisis.”

Mentioning several of the issues we covered above, he went on to say, “These wide-ranging risks require an urgent and united response.” To its credit, the Security Council passed a new resolution called 2532 (2020).

A Directive for an Immediate Global Ceasefire

This resolution “demands a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda.” In effect, this is a directive for an immediate global ceasefire in all armed conflicts, at least until the pandemic has run its course.

On the subject of free and fair elections, the UN chief told the council, “Difficult as they are, such decisions are best made on the basis of broad consultations with all stakeholders, to avoid fueling political tensions or undermining legitimacy.” We can only hope that someone in the West Wing was listening.

The Secretary-General explained that excessive force by police exacerbates the protection crisis. He told the members, “We have seen the excessive use of force to police lockdowns, curfews and other confinement measures.”

“Growing Manifestations of Authoritarianism”

“There are growing manifestations of authoritarianism,” he continued, “including limits on the media, civic space and freedom of expression. Populists, nationalists and others who were already seeking to roll back human rights are finding in the pandemic a pretext for repressive measures unrelated to the disease.”

We saw a particularly egregious example of this in Washington, DC. Security forces launched a surprise attack against peaceful protestors and the media. Using tear gas and rubber bullets half an hour before a declared curfew, they cleared the public square to create a photo opportunity for the country’s populist leader.

The UN Chief said that he realizes that governments face a balancing act between fighting disease spread and preserving human rights. As he put it, “Our challenge is to save lives today while buttressing the pillars of security for tomorrow.”

“People’s Needs Only Reasonable Basis on which to Respond”

Peter Maurer, the president of the Red Cross, was also at the meeting. He told the members that, “People’s needs are the only reasonable basis on which to respond.” 

The Red Cross wants to see a “people’s vaccine” that will be freely available for everyone. Of course, this involves education on the efficacy and safety of vaccines. There are backward countries where this is lacking, such as the United States.

The Red Cross chief also shared his concerns about international humanitarian law, always a prime mandate of the Red Cross. He told the council that countries whose health care systems are devastated have only a slim chance of navigating their humanitarian crises.

Devastated Health Care Systems Have Only a Slim Chance

Again, the best example of this is the United States. With 28 million uninsured people and 200 rural hospitals closed because of underfunding, it’s easy to see why the coronavirus is surging in local communities across the US.

Similarly, the US is the only developed country in the world that has no universal social programs. Peter Mauer, speaking in more general terms, said that member states need safety nets and livelihoods for vulnerable people to mitigate the protection crisis.

Failing to do that, according to the Red Cross president, only perpetuates the cycle of exclusion they endure. Peter Mauer closed his statement by saying that, “Health care at gunpoint is futile.”

“Healthcare at Gunpoint is Futile”

Like most crises, COVID-19 also presents opportunities. Although we have mostly squandered those opportunities so far, the international community still has a chance to learn how to cooperate to overcome this protection crisis, and those we know are coming in the future.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
Learn more:
COVID-19 fast becoming protection crisis, Guterres warns Security Council
Remarks to Security Council Open Video-Teleconference on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Implications of COVID-19
America’s far right is energised by covid-19 lockdowns
UN Peacekeeping – 8 Point Plan to Build “Beacon of Hope”
COVID-19 Opportunity Squandered Because of Denial
Hardest-Hit Countries in Pandemic are Victims of War
Attacks Against Journalists – America’s Free Press?


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